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Super 7: Essential Final Cut shortcuts & tips

Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express have rapidly become the Video Editors dream on the Mac. In days gone by, video editing required a massive outlay of tens/hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment. This is no longer the case for most needs. In fact, many Film studios, Editing Suites and TV stations are switching over from the super expensive Avid systems to the professional and comparatively cheap Final Cut Pro and a Mac Pro based editing suite.

That's great for those whose livelihood depends on it and also fantastic news for those who regard video editing as a hobby, or where it isn't their primary income source. Apple have done their part in making creative video editing tools available for everyone. iMovie is included with every newly purchased Mac. Despite some of it's limitations, iMovie is a great, easy to use non-linear video editor. But it isn't for everyone, and if you are beginning to outgrow it, the next step up is Final Cut Express or Pro. In today's tips, we'll explore a collection of 7 essential Final Cut tips. Although designed for new users, seasoned FCP veterans out there may find this helpful too.

Tip 1 - Navigate the Timeline using the keyboard

Using the mouse to move the playhead is possibly the least convenient and accurate way to navigate the Timeline. Moving around the Timeline using the left and right arrow keys gives you fine and precise frame by frame movement. To move forward or backwards in the Timeline hold down Shift & Left/right. You'll move forward/back in one second increments.

Tip 2 - Next / Previous Edit

Moving the playhead to the next or previous edit (this could be the end or beginning of a clip) can be tricky with the mouse... Enter the Up & Down arrow keys. Up moves the playhead to the previous edit point. Down moves the playhead to the next edit point.

Tip 3 - Playback Controls

If you're very new to Final Cut, then you'll have noticed by now that you can use the Spacebar to play and stop the Viewer or the Timeline/Canvas. However, Final Cut has a better way to control playback. Position your hands over the J, K and L keys. You'll see they are all next to each other on a QUERTY keyboard.

  • Press J once to play backwards in realtime.
  • Press K to stop.
  • Press L once to play forwards in realtime.

The beauty of the J and L keys is pressing them an extra time will increase the speed the playhead moves in that direction. It means you can very quickly move through the Timeline.

Another example is to press the J key twice. You're moving backwards at x2 speed. Now press the L key once. You're now playing backwards at 1x speed. It's easier to understand when trying it out. This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to navigate Final Cut without purchasing an external controller.

Tip 4 - Set In and Out Points

Most people reach for the Blade tool when needing to cut or remove parts of a clip in Final Cut. In most situations you'll find the In and Out points are much easier to use and mean you don't need to switch tools either.

Navigate the playhead where you wish to make the start cut on the Timeline and press I. Navigate the playhead to the end cut you wish to make and press O. Now you can remove the In/Out area by pressing the Backspace key and ripple delete (move all the contents of the Timeline from the right side to fill in any gap) using Shift - Backspace.

Option-I and Option-O will reset the In/Out point respectively.

Tip 5 - Global Zoom Shortcuts

If you've used Sound Track Pro then this command may be familiar.
To zoom out press Command -
To zoom in press Command =

Make sure you have the desired window selected. i.e. If you wish to zoom in/out within the Timeline, select it. Likewise for the Viewer or Canvas windows.

Step 6 - Zoom to Fit Shortcuts

One of the potential problems with the zoom controls in Tip 5 is making sure you have the desired window selected. Many times in the past I've applied the zoom controls to the Canvas window by accident when I intended to zoom in/out in the Timeline. This can mess up your Canvas display and although not terribly time consuming can be irritating.

If this happens you could use the Canvas/Viewer window's Zoom menu:

An even quicker way is the Zoom to fit shortcut, Shift-Z which will quickly return the contents of the Canvas/Viewer/Timeline to show all the contents.

Step 7 - Zoom Timeline Only

Rather than apply the Zoom to fit shortcuts continuously, I prefer to use the commands to zoom the Timeline only and it's not difficult to remember either!
To zoom out within the Timeline, Option -
To zoom in within the Timeline, Option =

Now that you've got some more useful navigation and quick editing tools under your belt, enjoy editing your clips in Final Cut!

Interested in learning more about Final Cut 7? These tutorials will help you to become proficient whether you are starting out or looking for advanced tips and tricks!? 

Rounik Sethi

Rounik Sethi | Articles by this author

Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & macProVideo. He's built a crack team of professional musicians and writers to create one of the most visited online resources for news, review, tutorials and interviews for modern musician and producer. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic Pro Rounik has taught teachers, professional musicians and hobbyists how to get the best out of Apple's creative software. He has been a visiting lecturer at Bath Spa University's Teacher training program, facilitating workshops on using music and digital media tools in the classroom. If you're looking for Rounik, you'll most likely find him (and his articles) on Ask.Audio & macProVideo.com.


May 19, 2010
Marcia Meister
Loved your tips and shortcuts for final cut express. Please keep them comming
May 20, 2010
Thanks Marcia!

Any requests on areas of Final Cut you want to know better are most welcome.

I've recently added a new tip on How to edit video to music:
Oct 12, 2010
James Guimaraes
Great tips - as you're working and working on a project, little things add up quickly. Knowing how to zoom in and out without thinking about it means you can stay focused on the creative process. Thanks, Rounik!
Oct 15, 2010
Hey James, Thanks. Yes, completely agree! When Keyboard shortcuts become second nature it's so much easier to focus on the creative process. :)
Nov 14, 2010
Any tip on how to move--that is nudge--the actual image or sound on the timeline by one frame at a time?
Nov 15, 2010
Hi frankbe,

Select the clip in the Timeline and use Option+left/right arrow to nudge the clip by one frame in the respective direction.
Nov 17, 2010
Great! Thanks a mil!!! One more question, if you'll indulge me: Is there a way to JOIN parts of an edited image or soundtrack so it will all move together?
Nov 19, 2010
Hey frankbe,

Yes, and no... You can just select all the clips and then move them... there is no "join/merge" tool.

You could create nested sequences which will treat all clips as if they were in a folder within the sequence... Bit to complex to go in to here.

Feel free to post on the mpv Final Cut forums:

and check out the excellent Final Cut 101, as there are very cool selection tricks that may not sound sexy, but make editing soooo much quicker and more enjoyable!

Hope that helps
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